The idea that Nathan Drake is a cold blooded killer pre-dates the written word. It is an overly simplistic viewpoint which we have finally decided to try to refute.
If good and bad are black and white; Nathan Drake is very grey.
It is said that Nathan is a nice guy whom (nearly) everybody likes, or wants to be like, but the fact that Uncharted includes killing adversaries invalidates that somehow. In Drake’s Fortune, he is committing pretty awful cultural theft in order to fulfil his own life’s purpose. In Among Thieves, he is committing pretty awful cultural theft with the purpose of dicking someone over. In Drake’s Deception, he commits pretty awful cultural theft in order to validate his lies. Again. While this isn’t exactly selling Nate, it proves that, while he is very likeable, there is a distinctly unlikeable steak to him before you even look at his skill with weapons and fists. Nathan isn’t an all-round good guy. That’s one of the reasons that his character works, and it certainly doesn’t mean that he is inconsistently written.
Lots of people try to kill him.
While two wrongs don’t make a right, Nathan gets (almost) as good as he gives. Nathan’s lifestyle as a dubious adventure slash fortune hunter slash thief for hire isn’t going to put him in the paths of general do gooders. The fact that he is a criminal isn’t ever covered up. Hell, the word “thief” is in two of his games’ titles. He doesn’t have to do what he does, but he does it, and consequently pisses off people with even more questionable morals than himself. So they shoot at him. Sometimes they punch him. Some even headbutt him. He would be a pretty dumb criminal if a) he didn’t expect that, or b) did not prepare for that. Forward planning is not his strong point, but the guy is not a moron. Conversely, my heart does not bleed for the people who employment choices see them signing up in the private army of notorious war criminals.
He doesn’t kill unless he has to.
InB4”but what about that museum guard in Turkey???” Wait. The oft misrecounted moment that is always offered up as proof of Nathan’s psychopathy is in the museum heist in Istanbul, when Nate pulls the guy off the roof and down to his death. Up until this point Nate has been very keen not to hurt the museum guards, because they are good guys who are just doing their jobs. Well, he didn’t pull that guy off the roof to his death. Nathan would have been well aware that he was going to fall into sea, and if the player waits long enough, they will see him swim to shore and climb out. It doesn’t make Nathan a saint, but neither does it make him a murderer. This moment of gameplay has come up in interviews with Naughty Dog several times since, and I have seen it said that they perhaps didn’t make the guy’s ultimate survival obvious enough.
Nathan hesitates to shoot Lazarevic when the guy is vulnerable, and in doing so makes things a whole lot worse for himself. When Katherine Marlowe is helpless and dying, Nathan tries to save her, although unsuccessfully. This is a woman whose unkind words helped to shape him into the broken and complex adult he had become.
Uncharted fits into a genre.
Uncharted is an adventure story, with over the top moments and crazy fantastical elements. It’s what makes it what it is. That isn’t to say that genres should not be subverted; in fact Uncharted does this variously throughout all the stories that make it up, but a genre would not be a genre if it did not have elements that fit. If you took out the pulpy adventure swashbuckling pieces from Uncharted, you would be left with the sad story of a guy who spends a serious portion of his life unemployed or in jail. Or as a frustrated field archaeologist. And trust me, no one would want to play that game.
Game design isn’t perfect.
This feels like the most legitimate argument for the so called ludonarrative dissonance. If you accept that Nathan isn’t a cold blooded killer by nature, but are struck by the absurd number of enemies that come your way (as the player), you have at least considered the character of Nathan Drake outside the context of the videogame. If the ‘fault’ is that the gameplay jars for you when placed alongside the narrative, it doesn’t make sense to blame Nathan Drake’s actions. While many consider Naughty Dog to be figureheads of their craft, there is still work to be done in perfecting the art, although ‘perfection’ is an unattainable goal.
Our two pennies worth.